Certified music head and TSL EIC Vince Thomas doesn't have time to scour the web for new hip hop (not that he's all that impressed with it anyway). Luckily he has editors. Even more fortunate, he has associate editors. Every week, one of them — James Carr — presents his top five(ish) of the week, keeping Vince's Walkman bumping while he keeps James in check. (You can catch last week's edition here).
“100$ Bill” – Jay-Z
VINCE: Let me get this outta the way first: I’ll pass. Who produced this? Couldn’t find the info with a very cursory (read: lazy) search online. Sounds like something Timbo cooked up while he was yawning, though. I also have this pressing question: Why on earth is Jay channeling French Montana during portions of this joint? I’m fully aware that Jay – over the years and when he wants to – jacks other emcess flows. He bit Beanie Siegel’s flow for about the first two years Beans was with the Roc. But Beans is dope; not much harm there. Jacking a few flows here and there is how/why Jay became the GOAT, since a good deal of his GOAT’ness is based on his unrivaled tenure atop or near the top of the rapper hierarchy for the past 15-plus years. But French Montana, Jigga? And, lastly, he just bored me, here. Some of my fellow music-head peers were not fans of “Open Letter,” mostly because they said Jay lazily reverted to subject tropes he’s exhausted. I disagreed. In this case, I just don’t think he came with enough verve. Kudos for trying to modernize the Gatsby theme with contemporary riffs here and there, but…
But, you know, it wasn’t American Gangster, which was like Jay’s Trouble Man.
James: Jay put out a somewhat basic – isn't that essentially French Montana's MO? – track for a massive movie. Basic tracks are for the masses. This won't do well with hip-hop heads, but it'll line Jay's pocket, and it'll get on a few playlists of mine for a few weeks. I'm down.
As for “Open Letter,” that song wasn't so much about the content as it was the timing. Just Blaze talked about timing at SXSW, saying “Public Service Announcement” was only so hot because of the timing. Take it completely out of context… is it the same? Nope. “Open Letter” had relevancy culturally and politically, a hot beat, pointed lyrics, and was unexpected. Timing is everything, and Jay has a gift for timing.
“Mid Life Crisis” – Wyclef Jean
VINCE: Hmmm…”Some see fame and some see the prison.” I wonder if that refrain in the track’s hook is some sort of ode to the artists like Lauryn Hill that retreat – in a variety of ways – from fame because of the constraints (personal and artistic) that can sometime engulf these stars. It’s clear that this is sort of like some kind of minor manifesto from a once superstar re-entering the landscape. It’s a shame Clef has to resubmit his resume, which he does here. At one time there were no better songwriters/producers in popular music. Everyone wanted this cat to work with them. He even brought Whitney Houston back for a short. And, man… his three-album run – from The Score, with The Fugees, to his first solo joints The Carnival and The Ecleftic – was like “classic, near-classic, almost-near-classic.” I hold Clef in very high esteem. He’s an underrated guitarist, too. He didn’t really get busy with his solo on this song. But he has his moments (like that understated soul he strummed at the end of Can-i-bus’ “I Honor You”). Ultimately, I think Clef should call it a career as a solo artist and stick to writing and producing for stars or acts he develops. Sometimes, your time passes.
JAMES: I feel you on the reintroduction, but haven't you noticed a lot of dudes coming back? Talib Kweli has an album coming out this month. Wu-Tang is working on a album too, though there may be some issues. [Editor’s note: Kwe’ stays making music as do many members of the Wu. Clef is different. (True. 2007 seems like a long time for my young life but they still have a ton of songs since then.)] Point is, during the late ‘90s and ‘00s, there wasn't an avenue to get music out since radios were hijacked by corporations (When Nas pronounced hip hop dead in 2006, do you think he also took external factors besides the artists into account, like how at least half of the hip-hop stations in America are 107.9???). The internet era is bringing it back, but there's an entire generation who potentially missed the boat. I know who Wyclef is, but Jay's Hard Knock Life was essentially my hip hop baptism. Anyone who came in a few years after that had virtually no shot at going further back in the hip hop archives because it wasn't available (or didn't have a reason to because hip hop died, remember?). So Wyclef isn't so much resubmitting his resume, he's just letting the entirely new fanbase of Millennials know what to Google/torrent so they can go back and recognize like the previous generations.
“Q.U.E.E.N.” Janelle Monae ft. Erykah Badu
VINCE: The question we should all ask ourselves, with great urgency, is who will be the next Erykah Badu? Ya’ know? Who will take that mantle, the mantle to make exploratory, resonant music that bends genres, but is also exceedingly black? I take that seriously, especially when it comes to singing music. That’s why we pine for D’Angelo’s return, that’s why I trumpet artists like Alice Smith. Badu keeps putting out sinister music. She was 13 years into the game when she dropped New Amerykah Part Two, still able to make songs like “Agitation.” And, on one hand, you can just marvel at a near-40-year-old woman dropping a tune like “Gone Baby Gone” in such an effortlessly cold way. But, on the other, any lover of black music has to look out on the landscape and shudder at the void of younger artists capable of approaching her level. This is where Monae comes in. That chick is not to be trifled with, in any manner. We won’t rehash the sky-high peaks of 2010’s The ArchAndroid; but, that was the year of Lady Gaga and, with all due respect to Gaga (she’s an exceptional talent) she was looking up at Monae. This “Q.U.E.E.N.” piece reminds me a lot of ArchAndroid’s lead single “Tightrope.” I say that because they both start off as, for lack of a better phrase, “funky joy-rides” and then the bridge comes in and things venture into something nastier and more wonderful. “Q.U.E.E.N.” might be even colder because, instead of a well-played Big Boi cameo (like on “Tightrope”), we get a symbolic passing of the baton from Badu to Monae. And they do this over a groove that is too dirty and jazzy. Scary thing is, if ArchAndroid is any indicator, “Q.U.E.E.N.” won’t even be one of the toughest cuts off Monae’s upcoming Electric Lady.
JAMES: This is the kind of track that makes it on Please Jam when there's too much J. Cole out there, because I obviously didn't choose a track from a 40 y/o woman who makes exceedingly black music. But the video begins by talking about “legendary rebels,” and I am so down. The instruments are dope, and her voice is spectacular. Throw in the lyrics that make you double-take, and you're a Jameson mixed drink away from having a quality night.
"The Hardest” – P. Money ft. M.O.P.
VINCE: Yoooo…this joint sent me to the net, not because what I listening to was so crucial, but because I had never heard of P-Money. So I came to a Wiki page – one for a New Zealand producer, the other for “an English grime-MC.” Grime, is like dubstep, although I am uninitiated. At any rate, I went to a post on Complex.com and saw P-Money in an “NZ” hat, so I guess it’s the New Zealand producer. I say this with great sincerity: Flight of the Conchords is from New Zealand, so the island makes dope artsists. Back to this track…it was a very typical M.O.P. joint. Lots of back-n-forth, bellicose shouting. The Mash Out Posse is a legendary, ‘90s Golden Era crew; they made some of my favorite music. I’m rarely in a mash-out mood these days, but I am a fan of them continuing their career. Once “The Hardest” finished playing, though, Soundcloud automatically started playing another track on P-Money’s page – “Welcome to America” featuring Skyzoo and Havoc. Now THAT track is dope. P-Money laced that joint. Flipped Donald Byrd’s “Wind Parade” real slick. And I see he has a joint with Roc Marciano, currently my favorite emcee. I’m checking for this dude’s Gratitude.
JAMES : I did the same damn thing. I heard this and wanted to know more about this old school producer who I didn't know, because I checked the track for M.O.P. They don't really work with producers who aren't dope, so you know P-Money has to be legit for his music to make it from NZ to BK and into M.O.P.'s ears.
Also, I'm about to pop my Flight of the Conchords Season 1 DVD in right now. Miss the hell outta that show.
“Lofticries” – Angel Haze
VINCE: I just really can’t muster a compelling opinion about Angel Haze in general. XXL thinks enough of her to include her in its annual “Freshmen” issue. For all of the travails of current hip-hop mags and their dwindling influence, that Freshmen issue means something in the landscape. Means nothing to me, but, then again, I’m not who they’re after. BBC also nominated Haze for their “Sound Of…” list, which is like a Freshmen list for international critics. Clearly she has a level of respect and she definitely has fans. This song shows that she clearly has some talent. There’s an artist’s touch to the lyrics and her selection of the ambient production. So I won’t dismiss the young lady, similar to how I won’t dismiss her rival Azealia Banks. I’m just not inclined to judge this song, and I’m not prepared to judge Haze as an artist.
JAMES: Angel Haze puts out so much raw emotion in her tracks. It's captivating, but the kind of thing that needs to be channeled. Early Eminem is a bit all over the place, but once he figures out how to hit the nail on the head, he kept making hits. She used his “ Cleaning Out My Closet” to get her skeletons out and try and deal with the trauma of being molested as a child. I'm not a huge fan of saying, “Artist A is the next Artist B” (though I seem to do it all the time in conversation), but Angel Haze could easily set the bar for females when it comes to spitting straight anger.